When I was growing up, Marvel Comics were SO GOOD that they gave me a taste for variety that I soon had to move outside of the “Big Two” of Marvel/DC to meet my desire for genres outside of standard super-heroes.
They say the “Golden Age” of comics is really what you were reading when you were 12. For me that was in the 1970s. Looking back, the 1970s had some really terrible fashion and home design…
…but some really GREAT comics. I got exposed to supernatural/horror comics with the classic monsters: Werewolf by Night in Marvel Spotlight #2 (Feb ’72), Tomb of Dracula #1 (Apr ’72), The Monster of Frankenstein #1 (Jan ’73), and the Living Mummy in Supernatural Thrillers #5 (Aug ’73). I ate up ALL of these…
I thrilled to all of these. My personal favorite was Jack Russell, the Werewolf By Night, which was handy because since I was buying the comic anyway I got the 1st appearance of Moon Knight in #32 as a bonus. I also loved N’Kantu, the Living Mummy, but he was the most short lived of these characters, closely followed by Frankenstein. Not Surprisingly, Dracula enjoyed the longest run. That was likely helped along by the creative team of Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan.
And lest we forget, after an initial appearance in the B&W Magazine Savage Tales #1 and a couple of guest shots with Marvel’s jungle-man Ka-Zar, the swamp creature known as the Man-Thing came into his own with Fear #11 (Dec ’72). To this day I associate him with his tag line (penned by Steve Gerber) of “Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!”
The 1970s supernatural at Marvel spread beyond the overt “monsters” into supernatural “heroes”. They had the outward trappings of super-heroes (costumes & powers) but Satan himself figured prominently into their origins. These were, of course, Ghost Rider who debuted in Marvel Spotlight #5 (Aug ’72) and the Son of Satan who debuted in Marvel Spotlight #12 (Oct ’73):
Ghost Rider was the most enduring of the 70s supernatural characters, still popping up regularly today with hundreds of comics to his name as well as a couple of movies. Son of Satan popped up again, but once he morphed into “Hellstorm” he was just not the same as the character I loved back in the day.
But it was not just Horror. I got Science Fiction (filtered through a “wearing a costume” lens, but these were not capes-and-tights super-heroes). Chief among these were Killraven, who debuted in Amazing Adventures #18 (May ’73) and Deathlok, debuting in Astonishing Tales #25 (Aug ’74):
Deathlok popped up a number of times in later years, but in fairly changed ways. That was not the end of it for Sci-Fi at Marvel, we had Adam Warlock. He appeared in Fantastic Four & Thor, and then in Marvel Premiere and the 1st 8 issues of his own comic, but as a fairly standard super-hero kind of guy. Where he really got “cosmic” was when Jim Starlin got his hands on him in Strange Tales #178 (Feb ’75). This is the run that defined the character for me and really blew my mind. Gamora’s costume didn’t hurt either, I was a teenage boy at this point:
And what about Swords & Sorcery? Robert E. Howard to the rescue with Conan the Barbarian. This series began in Oct ’70 but I didn’t come along until the John Buscema era which started in #25 (Apr ’73). That issue had a Kull story that led me right into picking up Kull the Conqueror #8 (May ’73).
From there I moved to Red Sonja. She appeared in a few issues of Conan and Kull and finally got to headline her own book with Marvel Feature #1 (Nov ’75):
And what about the “jungle heroes”? Ka-Zar, who started in X-Men and then on to Daredevil, Spider-Man and Hulk, was featured on his own in Astonishing Tales starting with #1 (Aug ’70). I started reading it when he got his own series, Ka-Zar #1 (Jan ’74).
And Martial arts! I loved Shang Chi, the Master of Kung Fu, I was lucky enough to catch this one from the beginning in Special Marvel Edition #15 (Dec ’73) and also Iron Fist starting in Marvel Premiere #15 (May ’74). Iron Fist was like Ghost Rider or Son of Satan in that he had the outward trappings of a super-hero, the costume and the glowing fist, but the series read like a fairly straight martial arts adventure.
Marvel even put a horror twist on war comics starting with War is Hell #9 (Oct ’74). Unlike the happy-go-lucky Sgt. Fury title, this featured a hooded skeletal Death that would force the dishonorably killed John Kowalski to inhabit the bodies of people about to die during WWII as part of his penance.
During my formative years of reading comics in addition to the super-heroes I was exposed to (and LOVED) a lot of comics that were not traditional super-hero titles from a number of different genres. MOST of these titles did not have very long runs. Conan, Ghost Rider, Master of Kung Fu made it into the 1980s, but I was looking around for variety right at a point when Marvel was hunkering down and concentrating on super-heroes.
Fortunately, there were an abundance of new “indie” publishers spinning up in the 1980s that fed my “genre fiction” love. I tried almost everything these new publishers put out, their own takes on super-heroes as well as the genre fiction. The super-heroes were enjoyable because they had a different “feel” from the costumed heroes from Marvel/DC, but it was the genre fiction stories that primarily stick with me to this day.
Aardvark-Vanaheim brought me Dave Sim’s Cerebus, a title that started in 1977, but I started reading with #16 (May ’80). Also Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot, William Messner-Loebs’ Journey, and Arn Saba’s Neil the Horse:
Pacific Comics gave me Michael Moorcock’s Elric, Sergio Aragones’ Groo, Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer, and Mike Grell’s Starslayer:
Comico gave me Matt Wagner’s Gendel & Mage:
First Comics gave me Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!, Jon Ostrander & Tim Truman’s Grimjack, Mike Grell’s Jon Sable, and Steve Rude’s Nexus:
Fantagraphics brought me Dalgoda, Lloyd Llewellyn, Love & Rockets, and Usagi Yojimbo:
Eclipse Comics gave me Aztec Ace, Mr. Monster, Ms. Tree, Reid Fleming, Sabre, and Scout:
I’ll end my walk down memory lane with Dark Horse Comics. In the 1980s the 2 big things they brought me were Dark Horse Presents & Concrete. In fact, Concrete’s 1st appearance was in DHP #1:
That was a nice diversion for a Friday evening. I had a great time remembering all these great genre books from the 1970s and 1980s. Marvel definitely gave me the itch in the 70s that the Indie publishers of the 80s scratched. This love for genre fiction and Indie books survives in my comics buying patterns of today. On one hand it’s what you grow up with and on the other it’s just giving something different a try. When those 2 come together? It’s a dangerous mix. Look what it created with me….
Bob Bretall: firstname.lastname@example.org
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